6 ideas for parents to help children with dyslexia
The way the dyslexic brain categorises, sorts and interprets what it sees, means that dyslexic children must be explicitly taught things that other children just 'pick up' automatically as they go along. Just understanding that a child needs this extra time can give parents and teachers the patience they need to help them.
In addition, dyslexic children generally benefit from being exposed to a mixture of different techniques for learning English in order to deliver the repetition and explicit learning that they need. As such, there's a great opportunity for parents to support dyslexic children with some of the ideas below.
Focus on the beat
Generally, children with dyslexia have difficulties recognising the individual sounds (phonemes) that make up words. The brain differences created by dyslexia mean that children tend to see words as whole entities, and struggle to identify and manipulate the smaller sounds within each word.
Breaking words down into syllables first, which are easier to identify, is a good start to helping dyslexic children understand how words are made of different parts. It can help to call syllables 'beats' to start with, and encourage your child to clap as they say each beat in the word.
As you progress, you can draw attention to the vowel sound in each syllable. Practice identifying these, as well as if they are long or short, with your child.
When we read, we depend on a 'word bank' that we have created in our long-term memory. Most children move words into this word bank after actively decoding them several times, but dyslexic children may have to decode the word many more times before it is cemented properly in their long-term memory.
Dyslexic children often have to learn things extremely thoroughly to move the information from their working memory and firmly establish it in their long-term memory.
Repetition is a great way for those little sight words (like the, and etc) to sink in. If you can find a way to make repetition even a tiny bit more fun than just writing the word over and over again, you're on to a winner.
You could try writing the words in each of the rainbow colours, or in all the colours in a set of fancy glitter pens. Use multi-sensory techniques (for example, form the word in playdough or write it in sand) to explore each word. This way you can try to avoid the necessary repetition becoming boring, and can appeal to your child's individual learning style.
Tackle the trickiest ones
Make a list of words that your child always has difficulties with and focus on those. These will often be the sight words that don't follow any rules, and they are often small words like 'the' or 'you'. Pick one or two words a week and give a day or two between each session to check whether your child has fully remembered it.
Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move
The above title is a mnemonic device to help remember how to spell the word rhythm. Other popular ones include Big Elephants Can't Always Use Small Exits, which helps kids spell the word 'because'.
You can look up or create funny mnemonic devices for words that your child is finding tricky, or encourage them to make up their own (they'll be even more likely to remember them this way!)
In this family, the most common misspelling was the word 'their', which always had the e and the i switched around. We made up the completely nonsense phrase, Toy Horses Eat Icy Roses, which has somehow stuck and we haven't had any problems with that one since!
Group similar words
Children with dyslexia can also find it hard to remember which sounds are made by which letters and in what circumstances. Add this to the fact that the English language is full of inconsistencies and irregular spellings, and they've got a really tricky task on their hands.
Grouping words with similar spelling patterns or characteristics is the way children tend to learn it in school anyway, which is great. For example, if you go over all the words which end with the letters 'eat' - heat, meat, beat, neat, etc - it can be a bit like getting several spellings learned for the price of one. Remember that dyslexia plays havoc with the brain's ability to break words down and generalise in this way, so it will take more repetitions than for an average child.
Focus on one thing
If handwriting is also an issue for your child, you could try writing down the letters for them as they call them out, or allow them to type their spellings out using a keyboard. That way they can focus on visualising the word and how it is spelled without having the additional worry of forming the letters correctly. Equally, you could ask them to spell words using letter magnets or scrabble tiles for a bit of extra fun and to take the writing pressure off.
Our English learning programme, Komodo English, has been designed so that children with conditions like dyslexia can use it. Find out more here.
About Komodo - Komodo is a fun and effective way to boost primary maths and literacy skills. Designed for 5 to 11-year-olds to use at home, Komodo uses a 'little and often' approach to learning that fits into busy family life. Komodo helps users develop fluency and confidence in maths and English - without keeping them at the screen for long.